In commenting on the verse, “Seek the L-rd while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near,”1 our Rabbis note:2 “These are the ten days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.” These days are commonly referred to as the Aseres Yimei Teshuvah , the “Ten Days of Penitence.”

This comment needs to be clarified: “Between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur” implies that Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are not part of the ten-day count,3 while “These are the ten days …” makes it clear that Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are indeed included, inasmuch as there are only seven days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.

Evidently, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur possess aspects of penitence which cause them to be included within the “Ten Days of Penitence.”

In addition to the above, we find yet another aspect to Rosh HaShanah: “The mitzvah of the day is the sounding of the shofar.”4

What is the relationship between the three above-mentioned aspects of Rosh HaShanah, and what is the order of their spirituality?

Clearly, the essential aspect of Rosh HaShanah precedes all else. Moreover, since the mitzvah of Teshuvah transcends all other mitzvos (for Teshuvah is able to rectify one’s failure to perform the other mitzvos), it follows that Teshuvah precedes the mitzvah of the day — the sounding of the shofar.

But what exactly is the fundamental aspect of Rosh HaShanah? The Gemara explains5 that it consists of crowning G‑d as our King. Until that is accomplished, no service of mitzvos can take place, for “First accept My Kingship and then [you can] accept My decrees.”6 It also follows that Teshuvah — the purpose of which is to rectify any shortcomings in the performance of the King’s decrees — can also come about only after accepting G‑d’s Kingship.

In terms of spiritual accomplishment: Performing G‑d’s decrees results in an attachment to G‑d’s revealed will. Teshuvah also relates to Divine will, since repentance for failing to perform G‑d’s will is not applicable to that level of service which transcends will. Accepting G‑d’s reign and dominion, however, brings an attachment to Him that eclipses every level of revelation.

The above factors also serve to indicate the importance of the Jewish people, since it is they who are able to attain an absolute degree of unification with G‑d, which in turn enables them to elicit from Him a desire to reign over the world as a whole and the Jewish people in particular.

All this is alluded to by the holiday being named Rosh HaShanah, “head of the year,” rather than simply “beginning of the year”:7

It is termed “head” because the head possesses the following qualities: a) It is far superior to and removed from all other bodily parts; b) The head contains and encompasses the life force that animates the rest of the body; c) The head constantly monitors and directs all other parts of the living organism.

These three qualities are also found within Rosh HaShanah, the “head of the year”:

Just as the head is superior in quality to the rest of the body, so too is the essential aspect of Rosh HaShanah — acceptance of G‑d’s reign and kingdom, a level of service that achieves total unification with G‑d Himself — superior to the spiritual service of the rest of the year.

Precisely as the head encompasses and provides life to the rest of the body while retaining it loftiness, so does the Teshuvah of Rosh HaShanah have a connection to mitzvos , while retaining its superiority to them and encompassing them all.

And the good resolutions and the mitzvah of Shofar on Rosh HaShanah affects the performance of mitzvos the whole year through — exactly as the head directs all other aspects of the body.

Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. IV, pp. 1144-1146.